Loss is Memory

Mel programmed his tastes into my car radio, of course, so I’ve been listening to 107.5 as I drive everywhere I can think of, even if there’s no reason to. Yesterday the Jackson Five turned up—it’s that kind of station—and they got me thinking.

“Spare me of this cost/Give back what I lost.”

Remember that line?   “But we analysts have to deal with slaves who think they are masters.” (57) This is Jacques Lacan’s gloss on Hegel’s Phenomenology—he got it from Alexandre Kojeve—in Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, his most valuable work. (I have hereafter revised Anthony Wilden’s translation from the French.)

“Spare me of this cost/Give back what I lost.”

What is it I have lost? Remember that line?

“As the compulsion to repeat—all the more misconstrued by those who wish to divide the two terms from each other—has in view nothing less than the historicizing temporality of the experience of transference, so the death instinct essentially expresses the limit of the historical function of the subject.” (82)

That is Lacan’s reference to Heidegger’s Being and Time, which he cites in his next sentence.

Remember that line. These, too.

“We don’t need the outworn notion of primordial masochism to understand how the repetitive utterances by which subjectivity brings together mastery over its abandonment and the birth of the symbol.

“These are the acts of occultation which Freud, in a flash of genius, revealed to us so that we might recognize in them that the moment in which desire becomes human is also the moment in which the child is born into Language.” (83)

We want and use language, and we enter or engage the repetition compulsion we call storytelling, only insofar as we experience the mirage of loss—notice, the key words here are compulsion and mirage. “Psychoanalysis is properly what reveals both the one and the other to be simply mirages.” (56)

We deploy language—we use words—to restore what we have lost, but we can’t know what that is, not to begin with. Language is what lets us describe what never was.

“Spare me of this cost/Give back what I lost.”


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